Change to Educator Discipline: An Update to Title 14 Chapter 12 of the Delaware Code

On July 11, Governor Carney signed a bill that changes Title 14, Chapter 12 of the Delaware Code and updates how educators in Delaware are reprimanded in certain instances. State employees who are involved in discipline of teachers, and teachers themselves, should become familiar with the slight, but important, changes that have gone into effect.

First, language was eliminated that required that employment action be taken first before a teaching license or certificate can be suspended or revoked. For example, before the amendment, the Department of Education (DOE) could take such action only once the person in question was terminated or dismissed from employment with a public school district. In the synopsis published with the bill, it says, “The Department believes that its ability, as the agency issuing professional teaching credentials to educators, to undertake licensure action should be separate from any action by the public school employer.” Additionally, the line “or for any crime against a child constituting a felony,” was added to several paragraphs that detail the circumstances under which DOE may automatically suspend the license of an educator without prior hearing.

Another goal of this bill was to change treatment of licensed teachers to be more similar to treatment of other licensed professionals in Delaware. Measures to accomplish this goal include allowing DOE to impose, “temporary emergency suspensions in those rare instances where a teacher poses a threat to student health, safety, or welfare,” and a new ability to impose a “letter of concern” that can be issued when an educator is displaying troubling behavior that does not rise to the level of breaking code.

So, what do these changes mean in practice? Hopefully more protection for our students.  Often, when disciplinary issues arise with tenured teachers—who are entitled by law to an evidentiary hearing before termination—school districts will allow a teacher to resign in lieu of termination, to avoid the cost and uncertainty of a termination hearing.  In those cases, there was no mechanism for DOE to investigate and suspend or revoke a teacher’s license.  That issue should now be resolved, allowing school districts and DOE the legal cover necessary to ensure that only qualified individuals are licensed to teach in Delaware, even if they have not been “terminated” from employment by a district.